It is difficult to put a finger on Chumbawamba, the anarcho-punk outfit who were just as much about ideas and activism as they were about music.
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They made a name for themselves with the infectious anthem “Tubthumping,” but spent the decade before and the decade after in relative obscurity. Not one-hit-wonders by any means, they were perhaps instead content being truth sayers and authority questioners in the shadows of the mainstream.
However, it is difficult to stay hidden with a name like Chumbawamba.
Behind the Name
What would become the band Chumbawamba was first formed by friends Boff Whalley and Danbert Nobacon as the group, Chimp Eats Banana.
The pair initially bonded over their fascination with England’s burgeoning punk scene at the time and decided to give music a go. They became involved with a musician’s collective of sorts and needed to jot down a band name on the spot. “We had this joke about being chimps and someone put down ‘Chimp Eats Banana’ just off the top of the head,” Whalley recalled in a Bandcamp feature. “A month later they rang and said, ‘You got a gig.’”
While Chimp Eats Banana is certainly a head-turning moniker, it’s nothing compared to the name the band would eventually settle on.
Many origin stories have sprung from the name Chumbawamba. It was sometimes said to have come from a dream in which public bathrooms replaced the Men and Women’s designations with Chumba and Wamba signs. A monkey typing the name out on a typewriter is another common origin. However, the band set the record straight in the Bandcamp feature published last year.
“While we were busking in Paris, these North African drummers used to come busk near us and when they started you couldn’t hear yourself think,” Whalley explained to the outlet. “They were fantastic! They used to sing, ‘chum chum ba wailan!’ It was great rhyming, and we thought we would call ourselves Chumbawailan because it doesn’t mean anything and was open-ended. All the punk bands had a hard-edged name and you kind of knew what you were getting.”
Nobacon added, “We changed it to Chumbawamba because it was snappier off the tongue.”
(Photo by Martyn Goodacre/Getty Images)